December 09, 2019
You can’t see it, smell it, taste it, or touch it, but it’s there: radon. It’s also the leading environmental cause of fatal cancer in the United States. Radon is a colorless, radioactive gas that was first discovered by Fredrich Dorn in 1900, and it’s a single-atom gas, meaning it has no trouble penetrating the things we rely on to protect us. This means sheetrock, mortar, sheathing paper, wood paneling, insulation, and other housing materials don’t offer shelter from the cancer-causing gas. Instead, these materials can trap radon that moves from the soil into your home, ensuring long-term radon exposure. It's estimated that radon will cause the deaths of approximately 21,000 Americans every year.
What should you do to make sure your home isn’t a hub for this radioactive gas? Researchers recommend you start in the basement. Rather than dropping a large chunk of change on long-term or continuous testing—which can sometimes cost up to $800 a test—begin by conducting a short-term test. These tests measure radon levels for two to seven days, and can be an effective way for quickly assessing the radon levels in your home. To get a more accurate reading, long-term testing should be a priority—especially if you live in an area where high radon levels are common, like Alaska, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Long-term measurement of radon levels start at a recommended time frame of at least three months, but testing for up to one year provides a better idea of how radon levels shift at different times of the year.
If your radon test shows your house has high levels of radon (4 pCi/L or higher), the EPA urges you to take immediate action to preserve the health of you and your family. Though “DIY” methods rarely reduce radon levels significantly, they’ll make a small difference and will make other radon reduction methods more effective. Radon inspectors recommend caulking foundation cracks, construction joints, and other openings, as well as installing an airtight cover over a sump pump, covering the soil in a crawl space with polyurethane plastic, and sealing concrete (though the EPA has found this to only be a temporary solution). If none of these small fixes reduce radon levels after you retest, install a radon mitigation system or hire a professional.
The effects of radon are cumulative. The longer you wait to test your home for radon or address the already existing high radon levels in your home, the more likely you are to face the negative effects of radon years down the line.